April 2012

Infielders to Target: Mike Aviles, Bryan LaHair

BY ROB SHAW

Twitter: @RobShawSports and @BloombergSports

The Red Sox willingness to trade away both Marco Scutaro and Jed Lowrie was certainly bold, but really the bigger story was the franchise’s confidence in former Royals middle infielder Mike Aviles.

A career .288 hitter, Aviles has been a fine contributor in the Majors when healthy.  The New York native making himself at home in Boston doesn’t have much power, but in a solid lineup he can pile up many runs.  He is also a sneaky stolen base threat.  Think of Aviles in the same mold as Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick, except for a much lower cost and with shortstop eligibility.

Aviles and the Red Sox played at the hitter-friendly US Cellular in Chicago this weekend.  Though he finished hitless in his final seven at bats, the 31-year-old veteran makes for a great start in the next series against Oakland.  The series will be played in Fenway Park where he already boasts two home runs and a .333 average this season.

The Cubs slugger Bryan LaHair reminds me a bit of Michael Morse, a late bloomer with plenty of power who finally broke out last season with the Nationals.  LaHair, is a 29-year-old slugger who entered the season with just five home runs to his credit.  He spent the last six seasons at Triple-A and last season blasted 38 round-trippers with a .331 average.

So far LaHair is batting .382 with the majority of those hits good for extra bases.  While those numbers will regress quite a bit, that does not mean that he can’t still end up as one of the greatest surprises of the season.  LaHair can blast 25 home runs with 90 RBI.

In many ways, he is an upgrade over Carlos Pena for the Cubbies at first base.  He may not be the defensive gem that Pena is, but with an average .150 better than what Pena has offered the last few seasons, the Chicago fan base is not complaining.  Neither should fantasy managers.

For more fantasy insight visit BloombergSports.com for access to Front Office 2012!

The Sustainability of the Orioles Big Three: Arrieta, Hunter, and Hammel

 

BY ROB SHAW

Twitter: @RobShawSports and @BloombergSports

 

The biggest surprise in baseball could very well be the Baltimore Orioles and what is most shocking is that the success is not a result of the offense as much as it is the pitching.  Let’s take a look at the three over-performing hurlers to determine whether or not the team’s success is sustainable.

Jake Arrieta is seemingly an innings eater who is in the prime of his career.  He does not have much control, he is not a strikeout artist, and he surrenders too many home runs.  His season got off to a great start with a 7-inning two-hit gem against a weak Minnesota offense.  Since then, he has been quite ordinary.  That’s what fantasy managers should expect going forward, as Arrieta epitomizes the average pitcher. 

Tommy Hunter is a far more interesting pitcher.  The Orioles hurler had some success in 2010 with the Rangers, picking up a 13-4 record with a 3.73 ERA.  Hunter is not a strikeout artist, nor does he try to be one.  The big right-hander makes a living keeping his defense busy.  So far, Hunter has been a bit uneven with two gems that resulted in a combined one earned run.  In the other two starts he surrendered a combined six home runs.  Fantasy managers will and should pass on his services since he does not rack up the K’s, but he’s been a winner so far in his career and should be a solid middle of the rotation hurler for the O’s. 

Jason Hammel is looking like a star in Baltimore.  Now that he escaped Colorado, the air is a little bit thicker and the ball is finding gloves in the field.  Additionally, the K’s are coming twice as frequently as last season.  Part of the reason for the sudden success is the addition of a new pitch to the arsenal.  Hammel now throws a sinker and he is getting a lot of ground balls with the new pitch.  The question is whether this type of success is sustainable or if a new scouting report will allow the hitters to make adjustments.  Considering he is already 29 years old and has been in the leagues for several years, it is unlikely a radical change will unfold this late in his career.

The Orioles do have some stars in the lineup as Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, and Matt Wieters should all be in their prime.  The starting rotation is another matter and the problem here is that the team is loaded with overachieving middle of the rotation hurlers.  It is very unlikely that they will be able to sustain this success. 

For more baseball insight visit BloombergSports.com

Has the Regression begun for Blue Jays SP Kyle Drabek?

 

BY ROB SHAW

Twitter: @RobShawSports and @BloombergSports

 

Kyle Drabek was a top prospect when the Blue Jays acquired him from the Phillies for perennial Cy Young contender Roy Halladay.  The Blue Jays fan base was hoping that Drabek would be able to make an immediate impact, but that did not occur at all in 2010, as the son of former Pirates All-Star Doug Drabek found some success at Double-A, while also walking four batters per nine innings.  That is a statistic that Drabek could get away with in the minor leagues, but a different story in the Majors.  Drabek lost all three starts in 2010.

 

Last season, it was assumed that Drabek would hold a spot in the starting rotation, and sure enough he did open the season with the Blue Jays.  The stay did not last long as he ended the season with just 14 starts and a 6.06 ERA.  The main issue was his lack of control, as he ranked as the worst in the Major Leagues in BB/9 as well as BB/K. 

 

Now 24 years old, Drabek is getting another opportunity this season and he shined bright in the first two games.  In fact, Drabek walked just one batter in his second start as he pitched into the eighth inning and surrendered just one earned run to a solid Orioles offense.  Suddenly, Drabek was again en vogue and was a hot pickup in fantasy baseball. 

 

Alas, doubt has returned to the mind of this fantasy expert.  Even though Drabek remains undefeated with a 2-0 record and the Blue Jays have won all three of his starts, his control was lost in his last start, as he issued six walks in 5.1 innings.  The fact that the Royals did not capitalize has a lot to do with Drabek’s ability to miss bats (he boasts 15 K’s in 18 innings) and a little bit of luck. 

 

On Thursday, the Orioles face Drabek for the second time this season.  In many ways, Drabek remains a wild card as he has great stuff, including a 94 MPH heater with movement, but if his control is lost the numbers could take a hit.  I’d expect a bit of regression for the next few months of the season.  I see Drabek offering up an ERA closer to four and could end up on a career path similar to fellow Blue Jays hurler Brandon Morrow.  In other words, Drabek is not for the risk adverse.  He will have moments of glory, but also fits of frustration.

Trade Stephen Strasburg At the All-Star Break

BY ROB SHAW

Twitter: @RobShawSports and @BloombergSports

To say that Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg has lived up to expectations so far this season would be an understatement.  The Opening Day starter is a perfect 2-0 while allowing just three runs to score in 25 innings.  He also seems to be pitching with little exertion, as his 25:6 strikeout-to-walk ratio suggests fine control, but we have not seen the 100 MPH heat that Strasburg is capable of.

It is clear that hitters have little chance off him, as he has not surrendered a home run in two years and the opposing batting average remains well under .200 in his nine starts over that period.  At 23 years old, Strasburg still remains very young and for that reason the Nationals are handling him with gloves.

In fact, the biggest strike against Strasburg’s fantasy value is the fact that the Nationals have already announced that he will throw only 160 innings this season.  That equates to just another 135 innings of dominance for those keeping track.

Even Strasburg limited to 160 innings works out to be one of the best pitchers in fantasy baseball.  However, to maximize his value, fantasy managers should consider trading the ace around the All-Star break.  By then they should have enjoyed a dominant stretch with Strsburg potentially ranking as the best hurler in baseball.  However, with his innings limited in the second half of the season, Strasburg becomes little better than a dominant reliever.

While the Nationals are keeping his future in mind with hopes that the franchise has many years of dominance ahead, fantasy managers must realize that Strasburg is only a short-term fix in this year’s fantasy leagues.

For more fantasy insight visit Bloombergsports.com

Rookie Outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis is a Hit with the Mets

BY ROB SHAW

Twitter: @RobShawSports and @BloombergSports

Even the Mets and their medical team had to know before they traded away Angel Pagan that Andres Torres never played as many as 140 games in a season.  So, therefore, it should come as no surprise that the outfielder who was hobbled in spring training strained his left calf in the season opener.

Fortunately, for the Mets they not only have an able replacement, but a player who could very well represent the team’s future at the position in Kirk Nieuwenhuis.  The 24-year-old nabbed in the 3rd round of the 2008 draft had some of his own injuries in recent years, but he is a big guy with some pop and speed.

This may be a Wally Pipp situation where Torres will never really replace Nieuwenhuis.  This has been a special season so far for the Mets as they have managed to rebuild while still competing in a very tough division… Alas, it is still very early.

Another option for the Mets would be to shift Nieuwenhuis to left field and split time with Jason Bay.  It’s a sad realization for the Mets to realize that Jason Bay does not warrant a starting position, but at this point Andres Torres and Nieuwenhuis could be more valuable.

Nieuwenhuis enters the weekend series with the Giants with a .375 average thanks to a six game hit streak.  He boasts six runs scored and has a home run and a stolen base.  He is a shocking early contender for the NL Rookie of the Year.

For more fantasy baseball insight visit BloombergSports.com.

Rookie Southpaw Drew Smyly Bringing Smiles to Detroit

BY ROB SHAW

Twitter: @RobShawSports and @BloombergSports

Get to know Drew Smyly, a 22-year-old southpaw nabbed out of Arkansas with a second round pick in 2010. Smyly made his Major League debut last week and the nerves were obvious as he surrendered three walks and gave up four hits in just four innings of work. More impressively, Smyly did fan four batters and allowed just one run as he was removed with a no decision.

In his one year of minor league service, Smyly was dominant. He finished 11-6 with a 2.07 ERA with more than a strikeout per inning and impeccable control. Smyly took the mound on Tuesday against the Royals and was sensational. He this time only walked one batter, and though he surrendered seven hits, they did not lead to any earned runs. Unfortunately, a lack of run support in the early innings led to another no-decision for the rookie.

A true test follows this weekend, as Smyly is slated to face the Rangers on Sunday. Considering how well the Rangers have been hitting, it may be a good idea to keep the southpaw on your fantasy bench. On the other hand, Smyly is becoming a must-start these days with a 0.90 ERA through his first two starts.

For more fantasy baseball insight visit BloombergSports.com

White Sox SP Philip Humber Embraces Fantasy Dream Week

BY ROB SHAW

Twitter: @RobShawSports

 

One of the top stories for the White Sox last season was the breakout season by former first round pick Philip Humber.  Selected by the Mets with the third pick of the 2004 draft, Humber dealt with injuries and never met expectations when he was traded for Johan Santana in 2008.  The trade did not exactly work out for the Twins, as Humber moved to the White Sox and aside from him the only other key contributor is their former centerfielder Carlos Gomez, who proved to be a part-time player. 

 

Last season, Humber finally got a crack at sticking in the Big Leagues.  He made 26 starts and 28 appearances.  Though his record was just 9-9, more impressive was his 3.75 ERA and 1.18 WHIP despite pitching in a hitter’s ballpark. What separates Humber from most pitchers is his devastating curveball.  In fact, he ranked fourth in Major League Baseball last season with a .159 opposing average against his curveball.

 

If there is an area for Humber to improve, it’s his stamina.  In his first full season in the Big Leagues, Humber experienced a major drop off after the fifth inning, as his ERA spiked from 2.96 to 6.34.  At that point, his control fell a bit and his opposing average spiked to .305.  Of course, the increased workload may explain the trend.   

 

Humber has a dream week in fantasy baseball, as he opens with a start against an overzealous Orioles offense that lacks much plate discipline.  He aced that test, allowing just one run to score in 5.1 innings of work, while fanning 7 batters.  Next, he hurls in Seattle’s cavernous Safeco Field, against a mediocre Mariners offense. 

 

Fantasy managers should plug Humber for both starts this week.  For more fantasy baseball insight visit BloombergSports.com.

 

Fantasy Baseball Panic: Shoo, Davis, Ramirez, and Lincecum

BY ROB SHAW

Twitter: @RobShawSports

To put it mildly, Aramis Ramirez has not had Brewers fans forget about Prince Fielder.  While Fielder has already offered the Tigers a .345 average with two home runs, Ramirez has chipped in with just a .129 average and no home runs for the Brew Crew.  This is a far cry from the .306 average Ramirez offered last season, not to mention the expectations coming into this season with Milwaukee.

While Ramirez is off to a slow start, he has had a tad of bad luck.  Alfonso Soriano robbed him at the left-field wall of an extra base hit on Tuesday, and he already has swiped two bases while nailing two doubles.  Plus, Ramirez is a notorious slow starter as March and April are his worst batting months throughout his career.

At this point, fantasy managers should be in a holding pattern, as Ramirez is likely to bounce back.  For the first time this season, Ramirez did not strike out in two consecutive games.  It looks like he is starting to see the ball better, and that usually leads to a rise in batting average and the power metrics.  Patience is a virtue in dealing with A-Ram’s early slump.

There has been a very scary trend in Cleveland for fantasy managers in recent years.  We’ve seen players who reach superstardom with the Indians only to lose their luster seemingly overnight due to injuries.

First it was MVP contender Travis Hafner, who went from a .300-plus hitting machine with loads of power to a lackluster DH who struggles to stay healthy.  More recently, it’s been all-around sensation Grady Sizemore, who has lost his speed and power in recent years and now is once again on the disabled list for an extended period.

The question that is plaguing fantasy managers right now is whether Shin-Soo Choo will follow that undesirable path.  Following consecutive 20-20 seasons, Choo had a season to forget last year with off-the-field controversy followed by an injury-plagued season.  Fresh off his worst season with 8 home runs and a .259 average, Choo is struggling once again.  The two-time 20-20 fantasy star has five hits, all of them singles.

The good news is that Shoo is drawing walks and already has two stolen bases while his OBP is north of .400.  For now fantasy managers should be in a holding power with Choo.  The solid plate discipline suggests that he is seeing the ball well and could bust out of his power outage at any moment.  In fact, if you have confidence in the 29-year-old outfielder go ahead and acquire him while his stock is low.

What’s the deal with Mets first baseman Ike Davis?  Last season he got off to a excellent start before a bum ankle shut him down for the season with seven home runs, 25 RBI, and a .302 average through 36 games.  This season has been the total opposite.  Davis has two hits through 28 at bats, and both hits have been singles.

While the Mets are calling Davis healthy, there are some questions as to whether a fungal disease suffered during spring training is still limiting him physically, or if at this point, the toll is mental, as Davis has 10 strikeouts through the first eight games of the season.

To be specific, the ailment that Davis encountered this spring was Valley Fever, a lung disease that could lead to fatigue.  It very much should be taken seriously, as the illness once knocked 130 games out of the season from Conor Jackson.  So yes, fantasy managers should be on red alert, as the disease commonly found in desert environments such as Davis’ hometown in Phoenix could be an issue.

Some good news is that David Wright returned from his broken pinkie on Saturday and blasted a home run.  With Wright’s return to the Mets lineup, there are more likely to be runners on base for Davis to drive home.  Furthermore, Lucas Duda has looked very much like a slugger this season with three home runs already.  With Duda batting behind Davis, there could be an uptick in the runs scored as well.

Of course, the main focus for Davis right not is to snap out of the slump, then he will no longer hear the whispers of mystery ailments and more concerns about the health of Mets players.

When last season concluded with Tim Lincecum brandishing a losing record, there was not much panic in San Francisco as his 13-14 record came with a superb 2.74 ERA and 1.21 WHIP.  On that note, fantasy managers again picked Lincecum early in the drafts this season expecting him to contend with rival Clayton Kershaw for the NL Cy Young award.  Through two starts the Giants ace may have already pitched himself out of contention.

Tim Lincecum currently sits at 0-1 with a 12.91 ERA.  Fantasy managers are wondering if it will it be sink or swim by the Bay this season for Lincecum.  This is a major concern for a number of reasons, but near the top of the list is that Lincecum is usually strong out of the gates.  April is usually the best month for him, at 12-3 entering this season with a sub-3 ERA.

Another key concern has been the diminishing velocity.  Lincecum is so far throwing his fastball at 90 MPH this season, down from 91 MPH last year and 92 MPH the year before.  He relies a great deal on his high velocity since his outpitch is no longer his slider, but his change-up.  In fact, Lincecum has mentioned that he will try to avoid use of his slider this season since it puts pressure on his arm.  It will be tough to get away with just a fastball and change-up if he can’t reach the mid-90s.

Keep an eye on Lincecum’s next start as this may be a concerning trend.  For more fantasy baseball insight visit BloombergSports.com.

Hot Starts in the 2012 Fantasy Baseball Season

BY ROB SHAW

Twitter: @RobShawSports

 

We are very early into the 2012 season and while there is still no proof that the Mets will lose a game this season, fantasy managers have to be realistic about the early returns of teams and players. 

 

Even just a handful of games into the season, there are some lessons that can be learned.  It looks like the Twins offense will be the worst in baseball, which means pick up the spot-starters off the waiver wire when they are going against the Twins.  On the other hand, the Tigers offense will be dangerous this season.  That is an offense to avoid whenever possible. 

 

Here’s a breakdown of some of the top performers this season and whether you can expect to ride a hot streak or whether you should jump off ship when reality hits:

Barry Zito was sensational with a complete game shutout against the Rockies.  Perhaps the biggest surprise was the fact that the stellar start came in Colorado, at the hitter-friendly Coors Field.  It also marked Zito’s first shutout in nine years.  What’s interesting about Zito is that he is not as hittable as you’d think.  The opposition has hit just .260 or better once in his time with the Giants.  Of course, he also came away with a losing record in all five seasons. 

 

The key to Zito’s success is simply control.  He has to throw strikes.  Zito did not walk a single batter in his season debut.  It is unlikely he will be able to sustain that type of control all season.  On the other hand, he has had some fantasy success recently.  During the first half of the 2010 season, Zito was 7-4 with a 3.76 ERA.  However, this is not a ride that fantasy managers should want to jump on. 

 

Another player off to a hot start is Chicago White Sox closer Hector Santiago.  He already has nabbed two saves this season while surrendering just two hits with two strikeouts.  A starter last year at Double-A, Santiago throws hard, but can get wild.  The southpaw drafted out of the 30th round is from Newark, New Jersey and is on the verge of becoming a household name in fantasy leagues. 

 

Cardinals third baseman David Freese has yet to awake from his dream.  After starring in the World Series last season, Freese is now slugging in the regular season with two home runs, 8 RBI, and a .417 average.  To get a better idea of Freese let’s combine his last two regular seasons.  Freese has offered 14 home runs, 91 RBI, and a .297 average in 167 games.  On that note, it is reasonable to believe that he can develop into a 20-homer talent with a high average and solid run production. 

 

A favorite for the NL Rookie of the Year has to be Reds shortstop  Zack Cozart.  He is batting .500 through 14 at bats this season.  Not your typical rookie, Cozart is 26-years old and proven in the minor leagues.  In 2010, he offered power and speed at Triple-A with 17 home runs and 30 stolen bases.  He also showed some value this spring with a .345 average in Arizona.  Cozart is a solid shortstop to nab off the waiver wire if he is still available. 

 

Finally, Nationals veteran first baseman Adam LaRoche is batting .467 with 6 RBI.  The reason that he was not on your fantasy radar is that he hit just 3 HR with a .172 average in 43 games last year.  The problem last season was his torn labrum in his left shoulder that eventually landed him on the DL.  If you go back a year before there’s a different story as he belted 25 home runs with 100 RBI.  LaRoche is a very inexpensive source for power.  Invest accordingly. 

 

For more fantasy baseball insight visit BloombergSports.com.

Bloomberg Sports 2012 New York Mets Preview

BY ROB SHAW

Twitter: @RobShawSports

The New York Mets can finally move on from the loss of Jose Reyes, as they opened the season with two straight wins against the Braves.  The team has accomplished the hot start because of the rise of young talent including Daniel Murphy, Lucas Duda, and Ike Davis as well as some help from old friends most notably David Wright and Johan Santana.

The two wins were not exactly expected.  Mets fans had been in mourning for several months as the news of the Madoff scandal attracted the most attention and the poster boy for the Mets reversal of financial fortune was the loss of the greatest shortstop in franchise history, Jose Reyes to the rival Marlins.

Wright understands as much as anyone how difficult it is to replace a talent like Reyes, but he also knows that the team has to move on, “You know one player, granted he’s very good and he’s a great player and great teammate, but you cannot worry about who is not here.  I have a tremendous relationship with Jose, I’ve got a ton of respect for him, like I said, I think he’s one of the best position players to put this Mets uniform on, but that’s not how this game works, we’ve still got games to play and games to win and we need other players to step up and fill that void,” said Wright.

Another former teammate of Reyes and Wright, Endy Chavez explains the shock he felt when word came out that Reyes was no longer a Mets shortstop, “That was unbelievable, I understand this is a business, but to Reyes leaving New York, just saying Jose Reyes is like saying New York Mets, so it’s something crazy, but you know things happen in baseball and that’s one of those things.”

Finally, Reyes himself understands that he has to move on.  His role goes from helping the Mets to now competing against them with a long-time rival, “You know in the beginning it was a little weird for me because all of my career I played with David the same thing, but now I have to adjust to the new team, so I know I was there with David for a long time and we every year became very good friends, I’m going to miss David and I wish him all the best.”

While the loss of Reyes is certainly hard to swallow for Mets fans, one thing that would make it easier is the return to prominence of Wright.  The 29-year-old franchise player has tallied five hits and two RBI through the first two games of the season.  It looks like the drawn in fences could be exactly what Wright needs to get his confidence back.  The young up-and-coming Mets look at Wright to set the tone.

“Huge, huge key for us, David is.  Not only as a player, but clubhouse guy.  He’s awesome in the clubhouse and he keeps us motivated, we follow him and where he goes we go,” says Mets slugger Lucas Duda.

First baseman Ike Davis adds on Wright, “Definitely a big part of our lineup and he’s going to be the leader of the team and it’s really exciting seeing him play again.”

Meanwhile, the pitching has been great and the biggest surprise of them all is Johan Santana.  After picking up 29 wins the first two seasons with the Mets, Santana has just 11 over the last two seasons, missing all of 2011 due to surgery.  However, he was back on the hill on Opening Day and gave the type of performance that will gain confidence in the ball club.

“He’s been the bright spot so far this spring, just his health, the way he’s throwing the ball, so I’m excited about what he’s going to bring to the table this year, and it will be a lot of fun to play defense behind him,” says Wright.

As impressive as the Mets have been, this is still very much a rebuilding year.  In fact, if Jason Bay and/or Johan Santana can sustain their production, there is a really good chance that they will get traded.  The Mets may be able to hang around .500 for the majority of the season, but the bright days ahead will be when their top pitching prospects develop into stars that can compete with Jordan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburg on the Nationals.  Maybe then, the big three in Philadelphia will no longer be in their prime.  The question is whether David Wright will still be a Mets third baseman.

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